Designing Joy: Shaping Culture and Creativity

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Sandy Marsico

What does it take to build a workplace where joy, creativity, and inclusion are not just goals, but realities? 

In this episode of “Happiness at Work,” we spotlight a shining example of a strong and intentional company culture with Sandy Marsico, founder & CEO of Sandstorm Design. 

We dive into how an influential leader merges the worlds of design, art, and marketing to forge a unique business environment that embodies their (unique) core values. 

Discover how these principles breathe life into daily operations and how strategic adaptations to remote work have strengthened and diversified team dynamics.

Key Points

  • Cultural Foundation from Personal Passion: The journey from receiving an art scholarship to founding a company illustrates how personal passion can become the foundation for a company’s culture, emphasizing creativity and continuous learning.
  • Integrating Core Values in Daily Operations: The featured company is built on core values like “Warrior Spirit” and “Creating Joy,” which permeate daily operations through unique practices such as a recognition program that enhances employee engagement and appreciation.
  • Remote Work and Cultural Adaptation: The discussion highlights how transitioning to a remote work model has preserved and even enhanced company culture by broadening the talent pool, leading to increased creativity and inclusivity.
  • Client and Community Engagement: The company actively engages with clients and the community by hosting themed weeks and integrating fun into every aspect of work, proving that work can and should be enjoyable.
  • Feedback and Continuous Improvement: Emphasis is placed on the importance of continual feedback and adjustments to maintain and evolve a healthy workplace culture, ensuring it adapts to the needs of its people and the dynamics of the business environment.

More information about Sandy Marsico here.
More information about Sandstorm Design here.


Does your workplace feel stuck in a rut? Are silos and outdated leadership styles stifling creativity and collaboration?

At Management 3.0, we understand these frustrations. That’s why we offer tailor-made training programs designed not just to enhance skills but to transform entire organizational mindsets.

With our expert guidance, envision a workplace where barriers are broken down and everyone is empowered to contribute their best and leadership not only manages but motivates and inspires.

Ready to create a thriving workplace culture? Visit our website at and see how we can help your organization build a happier, more productive workplace. 



*Please note that the transcript has been automatically generated and proofread for mistakes. But remains in spoken English, and some syntax and grammar mistakes might remain.

Elisa Tuijnder: [00:00:00] What does it take to build a workplace where joy, creativity, and inclusion are not just goals, but realities? In this episode of Happiness at Work, we spotlight a shining example of strong and intentional company culture. We dive into how an influential leader merges the world’s Of design, arts, and marketing to forge a unique business environment that embodies core values like Warrior [00:00:30] Spirit and create joy, discover howdy principles, breed life into daily operations, and how strategic adaptions to remote work have strengthened and diversified team dynamic.

Before we dive in, you are listening to The Happiness At Work podcast by Management 3.0 where we are getting to. A series about happiness.[00:01:00]

I’m your host, Elisa Tuijnder, Happiness Enthusiast and Management 3point0 team member. In this podcast, we share insights from industry experts, influencers, and thought leaders about what it takes to be happy, motivated, and productive at work, so that loving your job becomes the norm and not the exception.

We will be publishing every fortnight on Friday, so be sure to tune in and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.[00:01:30]

Today, we have the pleasure of speaking with Sandy Marciko, the visionary founder of Sandstorm. Sandy and her team are renowned for their dynamic approach to workplace culture and commitment to creating an environment where creativity and diversity is key. All that in a now remote setting as well. So, Sandy, it’s an honor to have you with us today.

Sandy Marsico: And it’s happy to be here, Alisa.

Elisa Tuijnder: Hey, so I’m super eager to dive [00:02:00] in to your experience and the values you guys live by. But I can’t start the podcast without asking our signature question, and that is, what does happiness mean to you? Happiness shows up

Sandy Marsico: in thousands of little moments each day. It’s being the first one up in the morning with a cup of hot jasmine tea.

It’s a hug. It’s a smile. It’s that first kiss from our little fluffball dog in the morning. It’s a synonym for so many feelings. Love, [00:02:30] peace, joy, anticipation. But I believe ultimately, being grateful is my fuel for happiness.

Elisa Tuijnder: That’s really nice. So the little things, but also, you know, appreciating what you have.

I like that. Hey Sunny, your, your career is a super fascinating blend of design, art, marketing, and now I’ve just heard before the podcast also travel and cultures and interesting things. So you have also this profound commitment to doing the right thing in business culture, but could you share with us?

You know, [00:03:00] your story, how did you become interested in these fields and how did they guide you to being such an advocate for the right business culture, I would say.

Sandy Marsico: Well, it started with my parents wanting me to be an accountant because I really loved it. And I still do today. But while I was in high school, I won this art competition that came with a scholarship and the only requirement was that you had to be an art major.

So I became one. And that’s,

Elisa Tuijnder: yeah, that’s, I mean, it’s, it’s, it’s, you say it as if it’s the most simple thing in the world. Oh, [00:03:30] so yeah. Okay. I changed my major or you started your, your, your major like that. Yeah.

Sandy Marsico: The irony really, I followed the money by being an art major, right? Because I was getting a scholarship, which

Elisa Tuijnder: is not how that normally goes.

Sandy Marsico: I know. I know. But everybody has a, has a starting place. And after I graduated, I was offered two jobs, one as a photography assistant and one as a graphic designer. And I took the graphic design job because it was a couple miles closer to home. Right? You think of those [00:04:00] little decisions you make, right?

And it absolutely kind of put me on this, this path. And at the age of 24, I called my parents. I told him I was going to quit my job and start a company called Sandstorm. I see Sandstorm as my biggest art project, creating something from nothing. And as spiritually independent as I was, I wanted to do it my way, find my rules, and I started with [00:04:30] culture from day one.

And here we are now, like, designing and building enterprise websites, conducting all these in depth user research interviews. We’ve actually done 4, 600 of them, which makes us a deep expertise in human behavior. And we’re doing this all for purpose driven brands. And that’s association, that’s healthcare, global non profits, and higher ed.

I am so grateful we get to do this every single day. And it all started from an art scholarship. [00:05:00]

Elisa Tuijnder: Oh, wow. I mean, those guys, they need to put that on their website, right? That is their marketing strategy right there. Okay, a lot to unpack there, but first you promised me a story on Sandstorm. I mean, we left it for the podcast.

I need to ask where, where did it come from? How did that come to light?

Sandy Marsico: Absolutely. So Sandstorm was my nickname in college. As an art major, our art classes would go from 9 to 12, then 2 to 5, and then 7 to 10 at night because you’re in these like [00:05:30] long studio classes. So by 10 p. m. I would still be wired and activated, so I used to run around my dorm room to see who wanted to go out for a life’s call.

So I was basically the Sandy of the storm. So I was the sandstorm. And when you’re 24 and you’re kind of sitting around with your friends being like, Oh, if I had my own design studio, what would I call it? And it was really popular in the late nineties to name it, you know, after yourself. But my, my last name was Jalowski before I got married.

So [00:06:00] no one could remember it, spell it, say it. So I certainly wasn’t going to do a lot of design. Right. Uh, so what I did instead, and I was like, well, people used to call me FanStorm in college and some friends of mine are like, I love it. Never could I have imagined here I’d be 25 years later, but that’s where the name came from.


Elisa Tuijnder: I love it. I really like it. You said, you know, it all started with culture, you had culture in, in mind and as a 24 year old, I mean, I was really idealistic at that time. I still am, to [00:06:30] be fair. I don’t think that’s really changed. I think the way I’ve expressed it, it might have changed. Did you also, I mean, was that more like, I’m gonna change the world, I’m gonna, you know, which you do with the kind of people you work with as well, or was that also, like, already in your head, this business culture, like, I’m gonna help the people that work for me, with me, around me as well?

Sandy Marsico: I think it was a little bit more simple than that. I simply created the kind of company that I’d want to work for. [00:07:00]

Elisa Tuijnder: Yeah.

Sandy Marsico: That, that’s how it started. But as you grow, it’s no longer just about you, right? And the culture that we have at Zandstorm today is all, right? And it’s all because of the team. Joanna does word for the day, right?

So everybody’s constantly learning and learning a new word and reads Shakespeare quotes. We have scrumpets and tea every, every week and that’s hosted by Sid and they do. Fun facts. Pam and Laura do [00:07:30] what are your weekend plans on a Friday? We also have like flannel Friday and Nathan does spirit week.

Coincidentally, spirit week is always his birthday week. Uh, but our clients join us as well. Jaina does joke of the day. I could go on, but our culture truly today is built by and truly has grown and been nurtured by our people.

Elisa Tuijnder: Yeah, amazing. Hey, Spirit Week, I’m guessing this is like cheer spirit and like, um, spirit as in like team [00:08:00] spirit.

Not, not ghosts because we have an international audience and I can imagine that might get confusing.

Sandy Marsico: Yes, Alisa, absolutely. Spirit Week is like rah, rah. I mean, we did one Spirit Week day where it was Fancy Friday and we had a client of ours, one of our developers, was like, hold on one second. Got off Zoom, hop back on in a full suit, right?

So fancy Friday can be whatever it is that you want. We could do a pajama day. But yeah, spirit [00:08:30] week is uh, like fun hats. Like it’s just um, I don’t know, a way to add a little bit of joy, creating joy. And not just for each other, for ourselves, for our clients.

Elisa Tuijnder: I love

Sandy Marsico: it.

Elisa Tuijnder: I

Sandy Marsico: love it.

Elisa Tuijnder: All right. Hey, you just said I created the company that I wanted to work for.

What is that company? How does it look? What makes it unique? And, you know, especially compared to other companies in the tech and creative industries, or maybe just in general with other companies, what is this distinctive culture that Sandstorm has?

Sandy Marsico: [00:09:00] So, I’m a big believer, going back to gratitude, that the simple act of sharing gratitude or expressing gratitude, uh, creates happiness.

It creates happiness in yourself and it creates happiness in the person that you have, have thanked. So we do something that I, I very rarely hear about. It’s a monthly UROC. And so what is the UROC? It’s our monthly company meeting where The goal of the meeting is not only to be able to talk [00:09:30] about, you know, what’s going on in the business, who we’re hiring, things like that.

Uh, this is where we also, we have a Warrior Spirit Award that we’ll, we’ll give the Warrior Spirit Award during that. But the key component of the UROC is that we give UROCs to one another for the little things. So the only rule is that I can’t rock anybody. So it’s not about the CEO playing favorites.

So it’s truly a peer to peer recognition program, but that doesn’t sound very fun, right? But what it really is, is a [00:10:00] super fun UROC where you can rock anybody for any reason, right? Absolutely, Alisa. I’d give you a UROC. Be like, UROC, Alisa, thank you so much for inviting me to participate in your show, Happiness at Work.

This is just such an honor. But it could be as something, you know, as simple as Hey Sandy, thanks so much, um, for sharing that Spotify list with me. I love checking out new artists. Or it could be like, [00:10:30] you rock Amanda for, you know, nailing that the first time, like really getting it right. You rock this. You know, like there’s lots of different reasons why somebody would rock one another.

And one of the things that we shifted over the years, originally I would sit there and read every UROC. How that has evolved is we really wanted to give opportunities for more people to shine, for more people to speak. So every month we now have two UROC readers.

Elisa Tuijnder: They make presentations, they make a whole show out of it.

You’re [00:11:00] designers, some of you at least, I hate so guessing.

Sandy Marsico: Absolutely, they’re really fun. So the UROCs are created by the person who’s rocking somebody. So they’ll create and put like a little animated gif in there. They’ll have like fun inside jokes in there and it’s written out to whom you want to rock, why you want to rock it, and who it’s from with a date.

And then um, people get to keep them afterwards. We’ve been doing this um, for over 15 years. So it’s a great way to have a company meeting where [00:11:30] you always have a place to communicate what’s going on, but more importantly, a way to show gratitude for all the little things that go on on a month to month basis.

Elisa Tuijnder: I know that you guys don’t have an office anymore, but I sort of would love to see all of these sort of hung up on the wall, like the UROC, like 15 years of UROCs. That would be so, so really cool. Maybe you should, maybe you have.

Sandy Marsico: Let me show you even a picture. I used to have a 4 foot by 3 foot corkboard.[00:12:00]

And it was just filled, it used to be behind me, filled with all the different UROCs and others would keep them stashed on their desk. Now it’s virtual, right? So they’re digital. I have to say, I think I like the digital even more, even though we started with all written when we had like a 10, 000 square foot office.

Now that it’s digital, they’re more interactive. They’re actually funnier. Emily has her son make some of the visuals for us. Some people use AI, like there’s just lots of ways to be creative and, and create a little bit of joy and have a little bit [00:12:30] of fun. Um, but most importantly, just honor each other.

Elisa Tuijnder: Yeah, yeah, I love that. I, I love these kind of, some people get really creative. I spoke to, I don’t know if you know, Deborah Corey. She’s a really, an expert in rewards and she’s talked to me about, you know, companies doing bobbleheads or, you know, putting people on buses or, you know, just, but like really funnily, I mean, it should be linked to your culture.

It should be linked to what you do somehow and also to. Yeah, that peer to [00:13:00] peer recognition, to use a beautiful HR term, that it’s not about this top down kind of situation where people are actually always feel somehow cheated on how this goes anyways, somehow. Um, so I, I always love to hear the stories where people get so creative with it.

And yeah, uh, I, I can imagine that this wall looks Fantastic, your digital wall there now. So you mentioned warrior spirit a little earlier and I mean I can see warrior spirit [00:13:30] in a number of ways playing that out within a company. Um, what definition would you bring to it? Or is it actually meant to interpret a role as well for everyone?

Sandy Marsico: I love using creative words that have multiple meanings and warrior spirit is one of them. Being a warrior means we’re all in this together. It also has like a personal meaning for me too, because I’m actually a black belt in Taekwondo. So there’s this kind of fun little twist, and I’ve got also some other employees that are also black belts, right?

So it’s just this [00:14:00] kind of fun thing, but ultimately what it truly means is that we’re all in this together. There’s no ego. There’s no drama. We’re just trying to do really good work for good people. And if a client has an issue, like, how can we all get together and work together to resolve it? Even if it’s not, Um, your, let’s say, technical role, is it some way that you can help contribute, make a connection?

Uh, but being, like, warrior spirit is through and [00:14:30] through. Every single one of us at Sandstorm is a true warrior. We’re just not gonna give up. We’re gonna figure it out. There’s no challenge that you can give us that we can’t.

Elisa Tuijnder: Overcome. Did you say you, in this monthly meeting, you also give the crown of the chief warrior almost?

Is that, is that how you see it? Yeah. We

Sandy Marsico: call it the Warrior Spirit Award. And when we were in person, um, we took one of my kids [00:15:00] Lego shields and we, you know, bedazzled it and put some Sandstorm stickers on it. So we used to give like this big shield. Now that we’re remote, we don’t give the shield anymore, but we do give the Warrior Spirit away.

And this is something that anyone on the team can nominate anybody for. And then we collect as an executive team, all the nominations, and we do a vote at the executive team level. Sometimes it’s an individual, sometimes it’s a team. So just this last month, I went to look it up because we record everything.

We’re very data [00:15:30] driven. . Um, it was actually our IDEA committee who won, uh, last month. An idea for us is our version of DEI. So the idea part is the DEI plus accessibility, which is why we call it IDEA

Elisa Tuijnder: I love. And

Sandy Marsico: what our IDEA committee did is they went out and got inspired. And looked at all these organizations that had developed what they found, like, really inspirational DEI [00:16:00] pages.

Not just the statement, but entire, you know, sections of the website that were dedicated to how they see diversity and what it means to their company. So they came to me, the idea committee, and said, we want to do something like this for Staten Storm. Gave them the two thumbs up. So they did the research.

They, um, went out, developed the wireframes, they wrote the content, they sourced the images, uh, they made sure they got some great ones when we were all together in person. They went and got the data. They developed and [00:16:30] created a survey that we now give out every year because you get what you track. Right?

That’s a business philosophy. You get what you track. So diversity is no different. Uh, they sent out the annual survey so we could get our own statistics. They designed the page, they built the page, and they just recently launched it. It is such an excellent example of the warrior spirit being inspired by something, making it happen from start to finish.

They showed initiative, thoughtfulness, strategic planning, execution, and such a [00:17:00] wonderful representation of Sandstorm. That’s a big example of warrior spirit. Others could be, hey, they, you know, they stayed up late and really knocked this out or a client had an issue and it was 2 a. m. and, you know, I mean, like lots of different ways to win the warrior spirit award.

Uh, but last month it was our, our entire idea committee that won it.

Elisa Tuijnder: I, I, I bet it’s, it’s hard to pick, pick the team that she does.

Sandy Marsico: Absolutely. Yes. Yeah. There

Elisa Tuijnder: was always. Since [00:17:30] we are on inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility, how you define it. And I like that. I really do. And I definitely applaud you on an ethical and moral ground and also from a product design perspective to, to have such a focus on this.

But. Can I ask first, how do you define diversity? Is that really in a sort of strict sense how almost people have started doing the checkboxes as in gender and minorities or, or background, et cetera? Or is that sort of a wider net that you [00:18:00] cast around this?

Sandy Marsico: Yeah, no, that’s a, that’s a great question. I think we started the way many did by looking at those checkboxes.

Right, to say what is officially diversity and I think there’s 21, yeah, I think different metrics that you can look at. And that started initially as like, okay, we can do this, right, because we’re also competitive in spirit and we, you know, like to win. We’re like, okay, we could at least see here’s where we’re at.

We’re big believers that there’s always room for growth. Like this is not [00:18:30] something that ever like on a to do list that is done. It is an ongoing component. So not only are we looking at your more expected. Diversity metrics, but building an inclusive digital experience is an entirely aspect of what we do.

From initial research to design, we’re accessibility certified, we’re DEIB belonging certified. So when we’re looking at accessibility, [00:19:00] or when we’re looking at diversity, we’re also looking at accessibility and inclusion. It’s really, we’re adding even more layers to it. So that it could be, like, truly, authentically Looking at all, all humans, and I’m a huge believer that diversity brings better thinking.

And it has been proven over and over and over again. Diverse teams outperform [00:19:30] non diverse teams. In the beginning, I hired a lot of, of me’s because you recognize that, right? Um, but something that we do is the DISC profile for communication strategies. And what we say right from the beginning is we have all four here, D I S C.

You were born authentically fantastic, right? This is not about changing you. This is about learning how to really appreciate our differences. And I think that is what [00:20:00] really, really is important, and that’s a core component of who we are, so

Elisa Tuijnder: I know your customer base, right, your clients, your clients customers are also not one person, right?

They, they, so to know this and, and to have that broader perspective is so valuable, but it is an easy trap to fall into. Oh, these people think like me, let’s, let’s work together.

Sandy Marsico: Well, and I say, like clients hire us for this expertise as well, particularly the associations who are [00:20:30] looking to grow their membership and change the face.

of their association. Because we’re thinking, everything that we’re designing, doing, listening for in the research, uh, is around making sure that inclusion is. happening. And even when we do like usability studies, we’ll make sure not only that we have a diverse audience, but we’re also including those that maybe need assistive technologies.

Like there’s lots of ways of

Elisa Tuijnder: being inclusive. Yeah, absolutely. And I think there’s such a push for [00:21:00] DEI at the moment, but it’s sort of the checkbook exercise. And I think that is where most people need to start, but it’s also a little broader than that. And I recently wrote a post for LinkedIn where I was basically just, Panting my frustration on, on how the Berlin airport is laid out and created, which is a brand new airport built from scratch, but it’s looks like it’s been designed without even asking ever a passenger how they would navigate the space.

And you’re just like, this [00:21:30] was such a beautiful opportunity for you guys. You had a land and you built something from scratch. I mean, I bet New York or whatever, any big city would love to start a new airport from scratch. And they just, They didn’t even check with, maybe they did, but it didn’t end up in the blueprints in the end.

None of it as a frequent flyer and as a frequent traveler. This whole thing does not make any sense to me. It’s complex, yet too simple at the same time. And I’m just like, this is for me such a perfect [00:22:00] example of getting diverse voices at the table. And I’m sure there were problems there throughout the process, and it went over budget and all of these kind of things.

But. You know, just listen, just listen to what people need. There’s a reason you’re doing this, and that goes from big airports to websites to, to, to, to anything really.

Sandy Marsico: And I’d say to brands as well. I can’t tell you how many times, like, someone will launch a new brand. When we’re designing a new brand, we’re making sure it’s [00:22:30] accessible.

There’s a lot of companies that don’t take that into consideration when they’re even establishing that initial brand essence. So again, it’s not an initiative for us. It’s a value. It’s it’s it’s a way of living. Yes. Yeah. It’s so great. It’s in like every conversation. It’s just a part of who we are, because there’s no ego, there’s no drama, it’s all data driven, and we know what’s going to perform and what’s not, what’s going to [00:23:00] be accessible, what’s not, what’s going to be inclusive, and what, what won’t be.

Elisa Tuijnder: Amazing. I was going to ask you that one of your other values was create joy, but I don’t even need to ask you how you create this, because it was abundantly clear from the start how you’ve managed to sort of spark that and maintain that. I love it. I’m a big believer, especially in remote settings, that we have to add fun and have to add color to things.

I sometimes have to convince a bunch of [00:23:30] people of this, but who sometimes tell me, Hey, we’re not in kindergarten. I’m like, we should be. Sometimes that makes us learn better and do better things. So thank you. Thank you for doing that as well. And I’m sure your team members love that as well.

Sandy Marsico: Well, it’s part of the human aspect.

Right? Because that’s what this is. We’re building relationships with each other. We’re building trust with one another, with our clients and creating joy. Again, something that has multiple [00:24:00] meanings. Our work creates joy because we’re creating a more intentional, intuitive and inclusive experience. Our client meetings are creating joy.

We want to be your favorite agency to work with. And we create joy with one another. Probably the most common thing I hear from our clients is like, wow, you guys really like each other. And I say, yeah, we do. There’s a lot of like, heart, heart, heart, heart. And you know, there’s my heart.

Elisa Tuijnder: I was talking to somebody about [00:24:30] this yesterday, how happiness.

Still remains a bit of a dirty word in the business community, although actually everything we do from the operations to the well being side of things, from, from the communication side of things, all of those lead into happiness. So this using happiness as an overarching thing for productivity, for, for good companies, for people working together should be so obvious, yet somehow.

It is not, and it’s slightly because it’s ambiguous or almost [00:25:00] seems a bit selfish to do. Like, Oh, why are you having fun at work? And it’s, it’s, it’s a bit frivolous. I don’t agree, obviously, but like, I think sometimes people seem to get the comments sometimes that it’s a bit frivolous, but I think it just leads to so much more creativity and working with people together.

In a happier environment, everything just, just gets better.

Sandy Marsico: And I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t want to. We spend more time [00:25:30] with each other every week than we do with our friends and family. That is the reality when you’re talking about dedicated time. So why wouldn’t you want to enjoy it? And there’s always going to be ups and downs in your life.

But if your work can be the safe place, the place where you know you’re going to feel accomplished, fulfilled, enjoying the, the people that you have in your life, if that’s in your work, everything externally is kind of like the, the [00:26:00] cherry on top.

Elisa Tuijnder: It’s almost like common knowledge or common sense, and I didn’t mean common knowledge, I mean common sense to do this.

Yet somehow people still, and people is such a silly word to say, obviously, but it seems somehow work still seems to work. For a lot of people, it has to hurt a little bit, somehow, which shouldn’t be fun. I just don’t understand that. It’s very hard for me to compute. Does your [00:26:30] workplace feel stuck in a rut?

Are silos and outdated leadership styles stifling creativity and collaboration? At Management 3point0, we understand these frustrations. That’s why we offer tailor made training programs designed not just to enhance skills, but to transform entire organizational mindsets. With our expert guidance, envision a workplace where barriers are broken down, and everyone is empowered to contribute their best, and [00:27:00] leadership that only manages But motivates and inspires.

Ready to create a thriving workplace culture? Then visit our website at management3o. com and see how we can help your organization build a happier, more productive workplace.

Sandy Marsico: Well, and let’s define fun. Fun isn’t always a party. Like it is really fun. At least it’s fun to me to solve a [00:27:30] challenging problem. Yeah, making it,

Elisa Tuijnder: building it and thinking about this.

Sandy Marsico: Create a new idea to be like, I know I can do this and to like stretch your brain. It’s fun to learn something new. It’s fun.

So if you think fun is a party all the time and that’s all we’re doing, that’s actually not it at all. Fun can be very rewarding from a job well done. Fun can be like. That was a whole lot of work. Boy, we all had to, you know, have the [00:28:00] warrior spirit to get that launched on time or to, to get through that sticky situation, but you can look back and be like, that was fun.

Elisa Tuijnder: And that’s where your definition of happiness with gratitude comes back in, right? It’s also, you know, looking back and thinking, Oh, we made something really cool together. And again, there as well, it’s, it’s, it is important to have those things and do those things and to drive us forward in that sense.

You’ve mentioned that you’re very data driven, so you’re very culture driven and people first kind of [00:28:30] culture, I have a feeling, but also this data dynamic comes in and you’ve also been known to really boldly, completely shift different things and try new things. Is that driven by input of your team and data combined or separately, or what drives you with these bold ideas sometimes and changes?

Sandy Marsico: So I’m a big believer in being very intentional in the decisions we make as a company. Thank you. Being intentional is one of my, my big words for this [00:29:00] year, personally, as well as patience. Patience comes up everywhere. Yeah, I would say patience is my personal word for the year, and that extends as being a mother, wife, sister, daughter, friend, right, co worker, leader, and at work the word for this year is intentional.

You can’t be afraid to find your own human truth. which is like the through line and that impacts and is really aligned with both your culture and your [00:29:30] brand. So I feel like the best companies and the strongest companies have this internal culture that aligns with their external brand. So user research, like in depth user research, really understanding motivations and behaviors of our clients users is a core part of the work that we do and then we build it all out and build out the technology.

But truly strategically That research and those personas and those motivations are That’s what we do. We [00:30:00] also do those same things when it comes to building culture and interviewing and finding ways to collect feedback from ourselves. So that’s really when I say be intentional, we want to match the external with the internal, but we also really want to make these big strategic decisions together, like as an executive team and keeping our, for our teams informed.

Along the way, we do this through our monthly UROCs. We’re doing this through surveys. We have [00:30:30] weekly one to ones. We have monthly one to ones. We do an annual summit where everybody comes together in person to work on the business, not necessarily to do the client. So, thinking about like how to make a shift, how to make big decisions.

It’s intentional, it’s strategic, and it’s based on on feedback and data, both primary, like doing qualitative work and looking at secondary data. So I think that’s really how we make decisions. [00:31:00] And it’s also really great for our clients so they can have more confidence in their decisions, particularly when you’re talking about creative decisions, right?

How do you take the subjectivity out of a creative decision? How do you take the subjectivity out of a decision around culture?

Elisa Tuijnder: I think it was last year, or was it? No, it was definitely last year. I said, next year is definitely going to be the year, meaning 2024, it’s definitely going to be the year of intentional leadership.

Because at some point it had some momentum, and then it died down a bit, and I’m not [00:31:30] hearing it as much anymore. And I’d love for it to come back, because intentional leadership is so important. I think, you know, how you take that word intentional there, and how you push that forward, I think a lot of people should internalize that.


Sandy Marsico: hard, . I completely agree. And when you’re being intentional, you also can give people an opportunity to lead and shine.

Elisa Tuijnder: Mm-Hmm. Because

Sandy Marsico: you know, like that’s, again, that’s part of our culture. It’s [00:32:00] truly not about one person or not about the founder. We really want to be and continue to work towards being more leadership team led, more team led in general.

Again, going back to intentional.

Elisa Tuijnder: Yeah, not founder culture, but people first culture. I always love asking this because it’s so important, but can we make the gathering feedback from your team a bit more tangible? How do you do that on a day to day basis or a week to week basis? Or how do you get as [00:32:30] much information from your team without it being invasive or privacy concerns around it?

Sandy Marsico: Yeah, absolutely. Um, so I can just kind of tactically describe what we do. So every year we have engagement surveys. And every year we have our idea survey, again, our DEI survey. We’ve got our monthly UROCs and sometimes some of the conversations we have in monthly UROCs are truly gathering input feedback.

When we did our Sandstorm Summit, we did a survey afterwards to [00:33:00] say like, what did you like? What didn’t you like? What would you do differently? What would you say we absolutely have to keep? We have monthly one to ones and we also have a series of volunteer committees. So, we have the social committee, and the social committee is in charge of coming up with, uh, social events or creative ways to increase engagement, but also to be dreaming and pulling together, collecting feedback on how we can be better.

As an organization, we have the [00:33:30] idea committee. How can we improve the diversity throughout? How can we change our hiring practices? How can we share with the world what it is that we’re doing? We have the AI committee, right? Looking at tools that we could be leveraging, building a roadmap for, you know, artificial intelligence internally, and then externally, how we’re able to impact our clients, leveraging AI.

And we have the scrum committee, which is. Helping pull together operational changes. So when you look at all the different volunteer committees, [00:34:00] in addition to the more typical engagement surveys, idea surveys, as well as the weekly one to ones, monthly one to ones in UROCs, it’s all the time. Right? So I say, it’s year round, it’s the thing about culture, it’s not permanent and it’s not set at, forget it.

Elisa Tuijnder: No, it’s also not set in stone. It evolves. It can grow with the company. That’s right. Absolutely. It’s not like you build it once and sort of, Hey, here’s our tower. And now it’s there for, for the rest of our time. It’s an, it’s a [00:34:30] perpetual building project where we have to keep tinkering with and steering and guiding and making sure that it aligns with the people that are there.

Also, you mentioned as well, because you just mentioned your hiring practices and somewhere on your blogs or on your LinkedIn, I don’t remember exactly where I wrote it, it’s like you were actually able to hire from a way more diverse pool of people due to going remote. And I can sort of imagine how that works.

I work myself in a very remote team at the moment, and it’s been [00:35:00] incredibly helpful. How did that work for you guys? How did you do this? from an ideological perspective and then maybe also practical perspectives because it sometimes comes with its own set of challenges as well.

Sandy Marsico: Right. I’d be happy to share a few things that we’ve learned that make remote work really well for everyone and how it improved our diversity efforts and our diversity.

Elisa Tuijnder: I

Sandy Marsico: think the number one thing, probably the most important thing, is that we all want remote to work. And [00:35:30] we have the saying, create the life you want. and build a career with us. So as we are like attracting candidates and interviewing and bringing people on, it’s saying like, hey, we’re remote and we’re going to be remote until one of two things happen, right?

So I’ve been very clear since the very beginning. I mean, I spent the first, what, 20 years in a full office setting and there’s two, two reasons, or two ways we’re going to go back. One, the [00:36:00] employees have to ask for it, right? And You know, they chuckle a little bit, right? Because you end up attracting people that want to make remote work.

And the second would be if the clients ask for it. If there’s clients out there that are saying neither one of those two things are happening at this point today, I don’t see that. Shifting, but I don’t know, right? Again, culture, nothing is permanent, but I can say these are the two metrics that I’m looking at.

You’re all asking me to say, we want an office now, [00:36:30] or clients are saying, we think you need an office. So it starts with that number one thing, we all want remote to work. Therefore, everybody works at making remote work. And every new hire understands that culture is everyone’s responsibility. And that’s particularly important when you’re talking about remote.

So we have also a camera on culture. We’re going to be camera on, even if our clients are camera off, there’s exceptions, you’re sick, there’s exceptions, you’re eating, you know, something’s going on, but for [00:37:00] the most part, we’re a camera on culture. And we all kind of agree to that. So you’ve kind of got your terms and expectations.

And when it comes to our. Diversity efforts. What I didn’t realize was the location of our office on the north side of Chicago was really, really hard to get to. Other aspects of Chicago, it’s a huge city, far suburbs, and the thing that didn’t really [00:37:30] dawn on me was like, How not diverse this area that our office was in.

Therefore, we weren’t attracting diverse candidates because the commute was too hard. So when you’re saying like, how does Recruiting change that when you’re now remote everywhere is a possibility. Every state is a possibility, every neighborhood. So the amount of diverse candidates that we got from day [00:38:00] one exploded.

We also changed a lot of things. So we started looking for more diverse recruiters. We made a policy where you had to interview diverse. Candidates, qualified diverse candidates before you made an offer, right? Like, so shifts and changes, but truly diverse candidates were now accessible. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Flexibility of being able to live wherever you wanted, being able to stay home if you needed, like so many variables shifted and changed [00:38:30] that made our remote environment work. And going back to that number one, when everybody wants it to work, right? Everybody makes it work and I think that’s a big help and those that I’ve seen struggle with it is when you’ve kind of got these halfsies, like half belief you should be in the office and half believe you don’t need to be in the office and I think that’s the conflict, not necessarily remote or not.

Elisa Tuijnder: Yeah, it’s hiring for the right culture fit then as well, right? In that sense. And I [00:39:00] think sometimes it’s even more important than anything else, your culture fit. And it’s not hiring the same people, like we said, right? It’s not like, hire a you, but make sure that all the snouts are in the same direction.

And if you make that number one. That is a pretty essential one towards it, yeah. And personally,

Sandy Marsico: so we’re a smaller business and we often used to compete with the, you know, with the [00:39:30] larger, largest companies in the world, right? Well, a lot of them are now looking to go back to work a couple days a week, right?

Or saying, you gotta go back in office. So I feel like the talent pool, there’s kind of those that want to go back to an office and there’s those that absolutely do not. So I don’t mind that I’ve lost some candidates in the pool because the candidates that I now have, it’s basically just kind of filtered it for us, want what we have.

[00:40:00] And the competitive set is a little bit different. So I found that recruiting is faster, it’s easier. It’s easier, we’re finding culture fits faster. We also are very intentional, going back to the intention, are intentional about who we are and who we do work for. So those that want to work with us now, they care as well about purpose driven brands and mission driven organizations.

It’s a positive that we’re working with associations and healthcare companies and global non profits and higher ed. That’s something that [00:40:30] fuels their soul too. So, we found with intention and having a niche space that we play in, we attract those that want to play there too. I loved, even love this divide and I fully support companies that love being in person.

Elisa Tuijnder: I mean, there’s also time and space for that. I mean, you guys come together in person as well, right? We absolutely do, multiple

Sandy Marsico: times a year. We prioritize it. Again, we spend the money and spend the time on the things we value [00:41:00] and we value that.

Elisa Tuijnder: But you did do a lot of savings, I’m guessing, on the very nice office in, uh, at the, in Chicago.

So you can reinvest that in, in the remotes, I’m guessing.

Sandy Marsico: I did. So where we reinvested it, it was, you know, like there’s definitely salary increases that were going on, especially in tech. So we just repurpose the dollars into our people.

Elisa Tuijnder: Yeah, that’s fantastic. I mean, why put it in real estate when you, when you can invest it in your people and get a [00:41:30] lot higher return on that.

Speaking of that, I was going to say

Sandy Marsico: the KPIs, you cannot deny our KPIs. Revenue has grown, productivity has improved, we have reduced turnover, right? Engagement survey results have gone up.

Elisa Tuijnder: Yeah.

Sandy Marsico: Right? So when you’re looking at all my business KPIs, it’s undeniable that this was a very [00:42:00] positive influence and outcome for us, even though I treasure my memories from before.

I treasure what was, but I’m incredibly grateful for what we have today and what is to come.

Elisa Tuijnder: Yeah, fantastic. So we really walked from your start that you’re, you started this culture with indigenality actually already from the start. You did the remote shift, we’ve walked through this. So I wondered whether, you know, we’ve seen [00:42:30] the commonalities, but I wonder if you could pick out one thing.

How your vision of workplace culture has really evolved over the years? Let’s not say changed, let’s say evolved. That sounds a lot, a lot more palatable. Maybe if you want to make a guess towards what the future might bring as well in workplace culture and shifts there.

Sandy Marsico: So some of the things that I’ve learned as we’ve grown, as I’ve grown personally and professionally, is that leading by example is only half the battle.

You are [00:43:00] also what you tolerate. So, I do believe that culture boundaries are set by leadership. But culture actually grows and thrives by contributions from everyone. Other things that we’ve learned is you want to put the right people in the right roles. Some people want to be experts and know that they can do their job really, really, really well every day, and you’ve got others that want to be always learning new things and taking risks and, and testing and trying where they [00:43:30] can go, right?

And you’ve got seats and spots for everyone. So over time, You know, we’ve kind of learned that, again, looking at a diverse group of people and how to be inclusive, that not everybody wants the same thing out of their role as well. So get the right people into the right roles where they can thrive and feel fulfilled.

That ultimately brings them happiness as well. And I’d say lastly, setting expectations. is [00:44:00] really important because it’s human nature. People want to be successful. They want to be clear about what success looks like because that’s also going to bring them joy and happiness and people want to feel good about their work.

So those are things that I’ve kind of realized over time, like setting those clear expectations. Building, like, for us, those core values, our mission, and our purpose, those, those aren’t things that we’re shifting and changing around. Our mission to do good work for good people was from [00:44:30] day one. I created that when I was 24 years old.

That was kind of my, like, dream job. That was it. It was kind of simple, but the fact that it’s lasted, it’s been kind of hard as, yeah.

Elisa Tuijnder: Yeah, I love also, I love how you, what you tolerate. I’m taking that with as well, because I don’t think I’ve described it like that before, but also, you know, setting expectations and that’s not just in KPIs and that’s not just in what people need to earn, but it’s also, it’s okay to be sick [00:45:00] or it’s okay to have a day off or that kind of thing.

It’s like, you don’t have to work yourself to death. It’s okay. Like, you know, and making that Really explicit. I was actually very funnily with my colleague the other day. I felt like I was making him read between the lines and I was like, damn, I continuously preach, preach the opposite. I’m going to actually ask him for a quick call.

I need to make something really clear, uh, because I’m asking him to read between the lines. And we do that sometimes [00:45:30] subconsciously, I think. So making, being intentional. It’s very important.

Sandy Marsico: Well, something that I do, again, it’s leading by example, and it is also what you tolerate. I put on my calendar when I’m going to see my daughter play her lacrosse or field hockey game.

I put on my calendar when I’m going to watch my son pole vault. I put on my calendar, um, if I’ve got, uh, again, We’ve got teenagers right now, so lots of kids things. Lots of sports and activities. [00:46:00] Or, you know, college things or things like that. Or we’ve got, you know, a college tour. I put it on my calendar.

So that everyone can see this is important for you too. There aren’t like hidden, like, where is Sandy? What is she doing? It’s like, Oh no, Sandy values her family. And she’s encouraging me to do this too. And I also encourage my executive team with whatever you’re comfortable with, like, go ahead, put it on the calendar that you’re doing this.

This is your son’s birthday. Awesome. [00:46:30] Because we’ll know, like, we’re not going to bother you. We’ll work around that because that’s, what’s important to us. So I would agree. You can’t just say work life balance. Not yet. Then do it or show it. Right. And I’m conscientious of, I have a, thing where it’s like two o’clock in the morning and I couldn’t quite sleep and I wanted somebody to do something or like I know that they’re out.

I’ll put like, do not respond, but I want, you know, like it’s one of those things. Yeah. Or use

Elisa Tuijnder: like delay send or something like [00:47:00] that. I, I’m kind of intentional about this as well.

Sandy Marsico: And we have, we have a whole rule about when you are on vacation. No one is allowed to email you with a request or to answer something.

That’s it. Because we say your vacation is a window, not a door. We want to check email because we don’t want to come back to 1500 emails and not knowing what’s going on just for our own anxiety or sanity. Right? However, no emails that are asking you to do something. You are [00:47:30] the only person that knows where something is, or you’re the only person that can answer a question, then it goes to text.

So we have text as our like backup plan. We know you’re gonna have your phone on, you not gonna use it. , that’s a bet signal. That’s a great way of putting it. Text is bet signal, but you know when you go on vacation with us or you’re on PTO and whatever, you’re taking your mental health day, that you do not have to check email, [00:48:00] choose to if you want to.

You do not have to, and quite, it’s expected for you not to, because we know that we’re not allowed to ask you to do anything during that time. That you know when you get the text, now we’re dealing with like, okay, you’re the only person that can know. And then sometimes we go as far as like, only text me good news, don’t text me bad news, right?

So we even have that, because sometimes you’re leaving, like there is a big pitch, or we’re waiting to see if somebody accepts a job offer.

Elisa Tuijnder: With a close [00:48:30] culture like that, I’m sure you guys are like sitting on the edge of my seat here, probably, so I can imagine. I really want to keep chatting about your culture, but unfortunately, we’re going to have to wrap up in a second, because otherwise this podcast is going to get really long.

Our final catch of all these is around tangible practices, because we sort of really want to leave our listeners with something they can start practicing with tomorrow or start implementing tomorrow. And we’ve talked about a number of things and probably has disembarked creativity with lots of [00:49:00] people because it’s been a wonderful conversation.

But what would you leave our listeners with today?

Sandy Marsico: I would start with making sure you’re setting expectations, build that platform. It could be through your core values, but something where there’s kind of that expectations, that platform to build upon. Then, the second thing I do is ask for input. Conduct your own research.

And act on it. Your people need to see that it’s clearer, brighter, and more effective. And when they [00:49:30] see feedback has impact, they provide more feedback. So ask for that input. Third, give people an opportunity to lead and shine. You, as the CEO, you, as the manager, do not have to do it all. You do not need to be the cruise director.

Give opportunities for people to lead and shine. Fourth, communicate often. Communication helps solve problems. So many issues. And [00:50:00] lastly, rate your successes regularly. It’s the little things. It’s the little thank yous. The little moments of gratitude. It’s the little happy dances. It’s the little things that absolutely add up and make a big impact.

So that would be my five pieces of advice. Set expectations. Ask for input. Give people an opportunity to lead and shine. Communicate often. and celebrate your successes regularly.

Elisa Tuijnder: Yeah,

Sandy Marsico: those are fantastic.

Elisa Tuijnder: They’re words to live by for [00:50:30] every company, but also personally, I feel, uh, my work as well. Sandy, thank you so much.

Um, if people want to work with you or want to find anything more of things, cause we haven’t even been able to get into any of the things around your leadership and women in leadership, et cetera, that we’ve been able to do, but there’s so much more to Sandy than what we’ve been able to explore, but also so much more to Sandstorm.

So where can people find more information?

Sandy Marsico: If you’d like to check out some of the work that we do and clients that we work with, you can go to sandstormdesign. com. S A [00:51:00] N D S T O R M D E S I G N. com. If you wanted to reach out to me personally, because you’re like, hey, I’d like to get to know you, it’s Sandy, S A N D Y, at Sandstormdesign.

com. And if you’d like to work with us, uh, please reach out to Amanda Heberg, our VP of business development, which is at Amanda, A M A N D A at sandstormdesign. com. And we would love to hear from you.

Elisa Tuijnder: Amazing. Thank you, Alisa. No, thank [00:51:30] you, Sunny. This has been fantastic. It’s a Friday night here and I am completely energized for the weekend now.

I don’t know. I mean, this is, this is exactly where we started with you in your dorm rooms running around. I feel like who’s going to do last call with me right now. Although I just get off of my computer and, you know, I have dinner tonight, but, but it’s kind of how I feel. I would now also run around dorms and kind of find somebody new to do last call.

Thank you,

Sandy Marsico: Elisa. This has been a pleasure.

Elisa Tuijnder: [00:52:00] Thank you. You’ve been listening to the Happiness at Work podcast by Management 3point0, where we are getting serious about happiness. Be sure to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. And if you enjoy our shows, don’t be shy, write us a review. Share the happiness with your colleagues, family, or friends.

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